continued from Homepage....
NO Fee Coalition: "Don't
Forget for a moment the cost of purchasing
those papers. Forget about the development that could soon be
built to lure more visitors to an area in order to better generate
revenue to manage the lingering scars of visitors from years
previous. Forget about the inequity of these fees, levied against
us while extractive industries continue to receive millions
of our tax dollars, or the inefficient manner in which such
revenue is spent.
Think about why we live where we do and
what we hope our children and their children will have to share
as we have. Think about that secret spot that provides shelter
when life is rough. About those fleeting moments of "otherness,"
when the worries of work and life were massaged away by escaping,
unannounced, through a silent side canyon or along a creeks
sculpted shore. Such priceless retreats, away from the encroaching
world of business and the busy hum of every day anxieties, will
soon be policed, and their necessary relief lost to us and to
the generations to come.
The latest testing ground for the Forest
Services Recreation Fee Demonstration Program is the magnificent
Red Rock Country surrounding Sedona. The Sedona Ranger District
initiated the Red Rock Pass Program August 28, 2000, and the
program has been a growing reality ever since.
The program covers over 80% of the district,
stretching from the top of Oak Creek Canyon to just shy of the
179 and I-17 junction, and reaching from the Munds Mountain
Wilderness to the start of Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. Although
the district just announced these plans to the public this past
winter, they have been planning such a program for years.
The Forest Service is testing their ability
to generate revenue by charging those who wish to enjoy the
public landscape around Sedona a "user fee." They
have spent considerable time and taxpayer money determining
how to charge and collect such fees, and how to make sure that
enough visitors do come and purchase their new passes.
The Forest Service has had, and continues
to receive, lots of help in transforming itself into a more
business-oriented entity. Executives from REI and Disney have
directly helped the Forest Service with programs, and the annual
"Partners Outdoors Conference," held at Disney World
in Florida, continues to allow major recreation business interests
access to our top public land management officials away from
the prying eyes of the actual owners of those lands - we the
Jim Lyons, U.S. Under Secretary of the Department
of the Interior, has remarked, "We are looking toward the
private sector to provide more support for national forest recreation
- for an expanded partnership with those who realize an economic
benefit from recreation on the public lands. In this way, you
can help us help you (as Jerry McGuire said) expand your business
opportunities while helping us expand recreation opportunities
on the national forests" (6/8/98).
More recently, the Forest Services
"Recreation Agenda 2000" instructs them to "join
commercial ventures, nongovernmental organizations, trade associations,
state organizations, and educational institutions in forming
viable and sustainable nature-based tourism industries."
They would "improve business relationships with contractors
and permit holders by making it easier for them to do business
on the national forests," as well as "seek authorities
for long-term private sector investment in existing and future
In Idaho, the new Visit Idaho Parks (VIP)
pass was just issued. "This is all-encompassing and the
beginning for the wave of the future," said Celeste Becia
of the Idaho Division of Tourism. "The number of sites
will increase in future years," (Idaho Statesman, 11/30/00).
The cost of this annual pass is $69.
Ken Anderson, when describing the Red Rock
Pass Program, remarked that the district is "designing
a business. When this is done, we will have a product line that
has a price tag," (Sedona Red Rock News, 10/29/99). The
district recently announced that it will begin to offer guided
tours of the area, for an additional fee of course, this spring.
Such programs obviously will compete with local outfitters,
and the FS is already busy planning its advertising and promotional
It is, indeed, a quality of life issue.
Not only do local businesses face increased competition for
tourist dollars, dont forget the Sedona District is hoping
to generate over three million dollars that do not help the
local tax base, but the very nature of nature is being transformed
before our very eyes. And Sedona is one of the nations
What happens when a simple walk in the woods
becomes a commercial venture? Or when trails are further developed
to entice more visitors? What is the affect of paying simply
to soak ones feet in Oak Creek, or to spend some time
away from the constraints of the workday reality we all must
Where is the public good if such fees are
being used for agency benefit, with only a small fraction of
the revenue generated going to actually helping the landscape
itself? (In the southwest, the Forest Service used only 1.8%
of its Fee Demo revenue for "habitat enhancement"
and "resource preservation" combined in 1999 according
to their report to Congress.)
Some of the affects can be seen already.
People are scared. They no longer view these lands as theirs.
They are concerned that if they have the audacity to enjoy what
their taxes provide, they will receive a ticket from the Forest
Service, marking them as a criminal. No longer can the Red Rock
Country be viewed as a sanctuary for all, as an invisible fence
now surrounds it designed to keep out those unwilling or unable
No longer is that special place an escape
from the realities of consumer life, it is now part and parcel
of that reality. Through Fee Demo, we have been disempowered;
we are now "customers" rather then owners of these
varied landscapes. Nowhere has the charging of fees not changed
the very nature of ones experience on public lands.
To add insult to injury, the Forest Service
has been quoted in publications across the country indicating
that the public likes their new pass program because people
buy the pass. In other words, "if you do as we say, you
like the program, if you do not, you will be punished,"
has become the Services measuring stick for public opinion.
Is that right or equitable? What about the folks who arent
there because they dont have the extra money, or those
that dislike the program but have been intimidated into purchasing
Is this the end of public land as we know
it? Are we now to be doomed to never escape the consumer culture
so pervasive in our country, even upon the frozen peaks of mountains
and the expansive desert country? Is there something that concerned
citizens can do to attempt to reverse this trend, to ensure
that public land is cared for regardless of its scenic
Fortunately, there is quite a bit that we
can do, provided we each do a little something.
For those who live in Sedona and do see
this as a threat to their quality of life and perhaps to the
very reason they live in such a magnificent area, communication
about this program is paramount. Not only with your friends
and neighbors, but also with business partners and those visitors
that one comes into contact with - at the coffee shop, at the
bar, on the sidewalk. Encourage business owners to not sell
the passes, and shy away from those that do.
We need to let folks know about the perils
associated with the Red Rock Pass and other Fee Demo programs
across the country. We need to let them know that if they purchase
a pass, the FS will mark them down as one more "satisfied
customer," whether they like the program or not. We must
encourage folks to write to their representatives and demand
that they restore public funding for responsible public recreation
programs so that environmentally suspect and socially unjust
programs such as the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program are
unneeded. The fate of our public lands across the country is
The Sedona District is confident that they
will turn a profit with their new venture. Even after the public
meeting this past January and one of the largest protests Sedona
has seen (both of which amply showed the local resentment to
this program) they are claiming that the program is popular,
and they are going to use their financial returns to "prove"
it. Once again, we must voice our displeasure, and we must be
strong and united in our opposition. And this time, we must
hit the FS where it hurts - in the pocket book.
The district is counting on visitors to
the Sedona area for the majority of their sales. We must work
together to show to these individuals that purchasing a pass
is not in the best interests of our public lands. Lawn signs
are an effective way of communicating with newcomers who are
driving through the area, as is distributing literature at trails.
Let these folks also know that the cost of prosecuting an out-of-state
individual is considerable, which is why locals were being actively
pursued in Idaho before the judicial system stopped hearing
One does not need a pass if one is practicing
ones First Amendment Rights. If we visit our public lands
to educate others about our opposition to the program, a pass
is not needed. Likewise, if folks are at trailheads talking
with folks and educating them about the program, one does not
need a pass. The AZ NoFee Coalition has distributed literature
at trailheads on three occasions, and we have found folks to
be very receptive and willing to talk about the program.
Many folks refuse to endorse the program
by purchasing a pass. We must let those individuals know that
they are not alone in their opposition, that they are part of
a rapidly growing movement to resist this monumental shift in
public land management policy. Indeed, there are over 170 organizations
and political bodies united against this program, unifying people
of all political stripes across the country. The AZ NoFee Coalition
is one of nine such groups in Arizona.
One of the most effective ways to call attention
to the many problems with the program is by stating your case
in front of a judge. We encourage folks to refuse to purchase
a pass, and if folks do get a ticket, we strongly encourage
people to not be intimidated into taking the easy way out and
purchasing a pass retroactively. Take your opposition to the
judicial system. And be sure to tell the press and your representatives
about your case.
The state of Idaho refuses to hear any more
cases, as they are too expensive to prosecute and waste the
federal judicial systems time. No cases are being heard
in New Hampshire, as it has been found that the presence of
ones vehicle at the trailhead is insufficient evidence
to conclude that the individual was present and recreating.
Such was the fate of the Forest Services recent lengthy
and expensive case against four Tucsonites at Mt. Lemmon this
According to Thomas More, a social scientist
with the Forest Service at the Northeastern Research Station,
"public sector activities and programs are generally undertaken
to accomplish some goal or fulfill some purpose that is not
being accomplished in the private sector. Parks and recreation
are no exception." It is this very public function that
is being discarded in the Forest Services pursuit of user
fees. This reorientation, away from an agency that serves a
public function for all to enjoy regardless of economic status
towards an agency concerned with its own economic well-being
first and foremost, is amply apparent in Forest Service documents
More goes on to ask, when these areas "are
fully priced and able to operate at a profit, generating a return
on investment, havent they essentially lost their public
function?" The debate about the mechanics of fees, and
where the money is going etc, has obscured the underlying reason
for the existence of our public land agencies in the first place
- to serve their public function.
The fate of the very soul and meaning of
our public lands is being determined right now. These lands
play a critical role in the formation of the psyche of our country.
Whether they remain true to their original intent, as a special
place, ecologically intact and somewhat removed from the concerns
of our modern society, and owned by the nation as a whole through
the simple act of paying taxes, or are further transformed into
a vehicle for agency and private profit is now being decided.
Are we to remain empowered as owners and
stewards, or are we now docile customers, lining up to see what
wonders the Forest Service has created for our consumption.
Donít forget - a customer is someone who purchases something
from someone who owns it. We must demand that these landscapes
be returned to we the people, and we all must contribute to
The AZ NoFee Coalition has been fighting
forest fees in Sedona since we first heard of them last winter.
We are a group of volunteers and we have spent untold hours
and resources on educating the public and grassroots organizing.
We are committed to defeating the Red Rock Pass and programs
like it in order to return our public lands to the public.
However, the battle is sure to be a long
and costly one. We cant do it alone. If you dont
like the program, get in touch with us. Put up a yard sign to
educate others in your neighborhood, especially if you live
near a trailhead. Refuse to purchase a pass. Any publicity generated
by or about the program is an opportunity to further inform
the public about this increasingly unpopular program.
Write a letter to this paper. Let us know
what you want to do, and we can provide literature or come and
speak with folks wanting to get involved. Become a member of
the AZ NoFee Coalition.